Book Review: The History of the Four Caliphs

History of the Four Caliphs

Title: The History of the Four Caliphs (Itmam al-Wafa’ fi Sirat al-Khulafa’)
Publisher: Turath Publishing (2012)
Original Author: Shaykh Muhammad al-Khudari Bak al-Bajuri
Translation: Maulana Mohammad Mohammadi

Shaykh Muhammad al-Bajuri was a scholar of Shariah, literature and Islamic History. He was born in Egypt in 1872, graduated from Madrasah Dar al-Ulum, became a judge in Khartoum and a professor in Islamic history at the University of Egypt, now known as the University of Cairo.

Shaykh Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf writes in the Foreword:

During the years I spent in Syria, I came across this work of the late Shaykh Muhammad al-Khudari Bak al-Bajuri of Cairo (may Allah have mercy on him). I found it to be concise, yet comprehensive enough to provide a sufficient overview of the lives of the four rightly-guided caliphs (may Allah be pleased with them). There are two features that made it stand out for me. One was that it provided a clear and straightforward narrative of the first four caliphs (may Allah be pleased with them), as well as that of the fifth, Hasan ibn Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). Written for the layman, it avoided long excursions into the variant narrations, technical intricacies, and obscure historical detail found on many issues. Such excursions often become a source of disinterest for the non-academic reader.

The second notable point was the balanced and refreshing way in which the author dealt with contentious issues related to the four caliphs. This included issues exploited by sectarians to divide the Ummah, such as Ali ibn Abi Talib’s (may Allah be pleased with him) delay in giving the pledge to the first Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him), the validity of the insurgency against the third Caliph Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), the battles of the Camel and Siffin, and the disputes between the fourth Caliph Ali and Mu’awiya (may Allah be pleased with them). His analysis of these events leaves the reader with a clear and pure conscience regarding the great Companions of the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon Him), a religious demand on us, and an increase in love and respect for their achievements in the face of tremendous difficulty (may Allah be pleased with them all).

In these short two paragraphs, Shaykh Abdur-Rahman highlights the virtue of this book. There may be some who have hesitated to venture into this phase of Islamic history due to the lack of reliable and balanced resources. However, this book address the topics in balanced and authentic manner, explaining the sensitive issues from the points of view of each companion and the reader realizes quickly that each companion, only desired good and stood up for what they believed to be the correct way to uphold the way of Islam. It leaves the reader with a positive view of all the companions involved, and increased love for them. We do feel empathy for the fact they faced tremendous difficulty, and understand the challenges of that time and the decree of Allah that they could not have avoided.

This book starts with defining the position of the Caliph, the way in which he is chosen, his qualities, and the obligations of following him. After that, it continues to the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), and describes his handling of the apostates. In the next sections, the Caliphate of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) is discussed. This period is filled with quick and rapid expansion of the land of the Muslims. This newly annexed land included Persia, the Levant and Jerusalem. I found one of the best passages in the book to be Umar’s (may Allah be pleased with him) letter to Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas (may Allah be pleased with him) advising him on being the commander of an army. A small portion of what Caliph Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) wrote is below:

Surely Allah does not wipe out evil with evil, rather he wipes out evil with good….I command you and all the troops that are with you to fear Allah in all circumstances. Surely the fear of Allah is the best of means against the enemy and the surest strategy in war. I command you and those with you to be more wary of your own selves than of your enemy, truly the sins of an army is more frightening to them than the enemy. The Muslims are assisted by their enemy’s disobedience to Allah. Were it not for that we would not have the strength to fight them. Our numbers are not equivalent to theirs nor our resources. If we are equal to them in disobedience to Allah they will be stronger than us. If not, we will be helped through our virtue and not through our strength.

The book moves on to include the Caliphate of Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) and the challenges he faced at the end of his Caliphate, and then to Caliph Ali (may Allah be pleased with him. It is during these two Caliphates that the much of tribulations occur. After a masterful explanation of the issues and challenges that the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) faced, Shaykh Bajuri leaves us with profound advice in the conclusion of the book:

After all this the most astonishing thing is that those who have come after them and know very little about what transpired insist on supporting one of the two sides and bearing malice towards the other side. This has nothing to do with Islam. Those were people who held different opinions. They did not follow their whims and desires but desired the pleasure of Allah in all their actions. They were the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) who received Islam directly from him and conveyed it to us. The Muslims unanimously agree about their reliability and righteousness. Thus to consider some of them to be astray is something which neither Allah nor His Messenger is pleased with.

May Allah protect us from this, and increase us in our love for the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). The table of contents of the book may be found here.

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